How Important is Vocational Expert Testimony at a Disability Hearing?

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When you apply for social security disability benefits, it is very possible that your application meets rejection at the first stage. You then have several options available to you to appeal against this initial verdict. Leveraging a Vocational Expert is one method.

At the first stage, you can request the Social Security Administration (SSA) to reconsider the denial. If SSA still denies your claim, you can take your claim to an administrative law judge (ALJ). The judge holds a hearing where your claim is evaluated and you are required to present the relevant evidence that supports your claim.

For most applicants for disability benefits, the ALJ is the most important phase of the application. This is because if your claim is genuine, you are very likely to get a favorable verdict at this stage.

There are many aspects of an ALJ hearing that you should carefully consider as a disability benefits claimant. One of these is the vocational expert testimony.

What is Vocational Expert Testimony?

The vocational expert testimony is provided by a vocational expert (VE), otherwise known as an expert witness. An ALJ seeks such testimony in an overwhelming majority of the cases. According to one estimate, VE testimony is sought in more than 80% of the disability hearings.

As the name suggests, a VE testimony is the evidence and advice provided by an expert regarding the vocational aspect of your application. In other words, the VE testifies about the type and nature of the jobs that you can perform given your disabilities. It is this that ultimately helps a judge decide whether or not you are disabled enough to qualify for the disability benefits.

VE’s Role at the ALJ Hearing

During a disability hearing, an ALJ may first ask you about the nature and severity of your disability. The focus of these questions would be to make sure about the sort of limitations your disability imposes on you. At the same time, you will be asked to provide details about the different jobs you have performed in the past. This is done to determine the kind of skills you had prior to the disability.

Once your disability and your past occupations are clearly known to the court, the vocational expert is asked to step in. The expert is asked by the judge to determine whether or not you can perform your previous job, given the limitations imposed by your disability. If the VE thinks that you can still perform your old job, the ALJ is very likely to turn down your claim.

If the VE thinks you can no longer perform your previous job, the judge asks the expert if you can perform any other jobs. This is typically done by using specific questions known as hypotheticals. A typical hypothetical goes like this, “What jobs are possible for a person with so-and-so age, gender, education, physical build, and past history, with such-and-such skills?”

So the essential task of the VE is to determine precisely the kind of jobs that you can still perform despite the limitations imposed by your disability. If the VE thinks that there are jobs you can still perform, your claim is likely to be denied.

However, all is not over yet. After the VE has responded to the hypotheticals presented by the ALJ, your attorney has the option of cross-examining the expert.

Cross-Examination of the Vocational Expert

During cross-examination, the attorney representing you at a disability hearing gets to ask the VE follow-up questions. This is where the attorney has a chance of countering the VE’s views regarding your disability.

For instance, if the VE overlooked some limitations of your disability, the attorney can bring these up. The attorney can then ask the VE if you can still perform the jobs previously advised given these limitations that were previously ignored. By challenging the VE’s opinion with evidence and well-asked questions, your attorney can make the expert change views towards your vocational abilities.

Hiring Disability Lawyers in Columbia SC

When your disability benefits claim goes to an ALJ hearing, you will need a good attorney by your side. As shown above, only your attorney can properly counter a VE’s testimony and turn it into something that actually favors your claim. Without an attorney, a VE may advise that you can do work even when you actually can’t, ending all chances of receiving any disability benefits.

Here at Robert Surface Law Firm, we have been representing social security disability benefits applicants in Columbia, SC for many years. We work with you to make sure you get the benefits you deserve. Contact us today to book a free consultative session with our lawyers.